updated 4/19/2004 10:43:46 AM ET 2004-04-19T14:43:46

A barometer of future economic activity edged higher in March, following a pause in February, suggesting that the economic recovery may be gaining a more solid footing.

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The Conference Board, a private research group, also reported Monday that its indicator of current economic activity rose for the seventh straight month in March, indicating that economic momentum was remaining strong going into the second quarter.

The group’s Composite Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose 0.3 percent in March, following no change in February and a 0.4 percent rise in January. The report was in line with what analysts were expecting.

The indicator, which forecasts trends in the economy over the next three to six months, is comprised of 10 indicators of future economic activity. Six of those indicators rose last month, including real money supply, building permits and new orders for consumer goods to manufacturers.

Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board, said the leading index remained on an “upward trend,” auguring well for the economy. “Economic growth in the first quarter was strong and the second quarter may be as good or better.”

The upturn in the leading index in March left the indicator 4.4 percent higher than its most recent low in March of 2003, though the group noted that growth in the indicator had “slowed somewhat in recent months.”

However, the Conference Board also noted that its indicator of current economic conditions, its Coincident Index, continued to advance steadily in March, and that the strength in current conditions had been solidifying in recent months and also taking a wider hold in various parts of the economy.

Three of the four elements of the Coincident Index were higher in March, including personal income, non-agricultural employment and manufacturing. The only lagging element was industrial production. Overall the index was up 0.2 percent.

Combined with other recent economic measurements, the report pointed to more steady growth in the economy. The Conference Board said in its report that the current rate of growth in its leading index suggested “a continuation of relatively strong economic growth in the near term.”

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